Kaylee, age 13: Uncle Hugh, how often do you cook?
Me, age 49: I cook something almost every day, and some days I cook two or three times a day. Why?
Kaylee: Well, I could tell by the way you stirred the food around that you know what you are doing. Do you like cooking?
Me: I do. I really do.
Me: Hmmm. Well, there are several reasons. The first is that when I left home, I could suddenly eat anything I wanted. But most of the food I could afford and had access to wasn’t very good. So learning how to cook was a way to be kind to myself. I deserved to have good food, and the only way I knew to get it was to cook it myself.
But more than that, it was that there were people in my life that I dearly loved, and now they were gone. And when I thought back over my memories of them, most of those memories involved food. Like today, we ate chicken and dressing. I can never eat chicken and dressing without thinking of Aunt Louise. But how often in your day-to-day life do you get to eat chicken and dressing? But by knowing how to make it, I can feel that good feeling any time I want to. Knowing how to cook is like having a photo album filled with people you love, that you have an opportunity to see any time you need to eat, which is multiple times a day.
Another reason I like to cook is that most of my adult life has been trying to solve unsolvable problems. Like, no matter how hard I work, people are still hungry, still homeless, still lonely, still addicts. You can work hard all day, all week, all month, even, and at the end of that time feel like absolutely nothing has changed.
But I can have some rice and some sausage and a pepper and an onion and a few other things, and it doesn’t look like anything at all, but if you know how you can turn that pile of random things into jambalaya. I can start with chaos and end with something that tastes good, that reminds me of people I love, and that makes other people happy and fills your belly in the process. It’s the one part of my life I can fix. I can turn the chaotic into something good, and I can usually do that li less than an hour. How cool is that!
But my favorite reason? Today. We sat around a table, and we ate food that was good, and we talked about stories from our past, and people we missed who were not there, and the food reminded us of meals we had had like this before, and the people who had been there, and for a minute, we all felt very loved. I love knowing how to make that happen.